As Americans, it is not in our nature to demonize a segment of the population based on the actions of a few of their members. That is, of course, unless the actions of the community in general, in response to the reprehensible actions of the few, are equally reprehensible.
We have reached that point as regards the American Muslim community.
Whether by design or ignorance, it has failed to accept responsibility for the fact that it’s members are willingly conducting acts of violence against the American public writ large. Rather than work with the authorities to identify those members who’ve espoused radical ideologies, they’ve given them sanctuary. Rather than remove leaders whose mosques preach hatred, they’ve continued to fund them, often lavishly. Rather than work to drown out the voices within the Muslim community who’ve preached jihad against the rest of us, those voices are elevated and given prominence.
As a nation, we’ve asked the Muslim community to effectively police itself. After Ft. Hood, after Boston, after San Bernadino, Americans said we want you to work with us. We said we understand there are differences in worship, but so long as you agree on the principles of life and liberty, we’ll work to overcome any prejudices.
Now, we can add Orlando to the list of American tragedies created by a member of the Muslim community. Another young man who had espoused antagonism towards his homeland for years, not hiding his views. Another young man who studied at mosques that reinforced his hatred of the United States. In his case, his imam has been caught on video telling his minions that “homosexuals should be killed to save them from themselves.”
This willful, conscious and intentional separation of the Muslim community from American society by Muslims can no longer be tolerated by the rest of us. We must remove them from our midst. Expel them, imprison them – by whatever means necessary; Muslims have demonstrated they are a cancer on the rest of the American public. They have proven to have loyalties not to the United States, but to Mecca.
Stop to consider if any other group acted towards the rest of us as Muslims have. If Catholics were an insular religion that demanded the extermination of Jews, they would be ostracized and imprisoned. If Baptists preached that anyone who wasn’t Baptist should be killed to save them from themselves, the rest of us would demand the expulsion of Baptists.
Undoubtedly, our political leaders will respond to this latest Muslim atrocity with appeals for calm and requests of Muslims to police themselves. And undoubtedly, those appeals and requests will be ignored and mocked by Muslims. Yet again, as they were after Boston. Our feckless and cowardly “leaders” will be ridiculed in mosques from Newark to Appleton, as they were after San Bernadino.
No more. Enough is enough. It is time to admit what we have been loathe to admit and accept reality. Muslims do not want to be part of the fabric of our nation. Rather, they want to be a nation within the nation and at war with the rest of us. That is unacceptable and intolerable. And for that reason, they must go.
One of the things that’s driving me absolutely bonkers this election season is the focus all the candidates have on returning the USA to the economy of the 1950’s and 60’s. All of them, but especially Messers Trump and Sanders, seem to think that if we wall ourselves off from the rest of the world, we can return to those halcyon days.
It’s a pipe dream, and if you’re buying into it, you might be stuffing something other than tobacco in your pipe. I’m going to drop some knowledge on you that you might have heard whispers of, but never been forced to grasp. The “good ol’ days” are gone forever – and they’re never coming back. Labor-intensive work, requiring little to no skills that pays well, is a thing of your memories. Soon, many of the jobs that we kid ourselves about being in demand will have gone the way of the blacksmith, the cobbler and the typesetter.
It’s understandable that most of us do not want to hear this. We grew up being to ld that if we worked hard, kept out of trouble and were good citizens we could live the American dream. Then, one day we woke up to find that our jobs disappeared and they aren’t coming back. Nobody told us why, or what jobs would replace them. Then, we found out the jobs that did replace them required all kinds of skills that most of us lacked. It didn’t matter that we’d proven ourselves as good employees by every other measure: we simply didn’t qualify for these new jobs.
It would be wonderful if we could bring back those labor-intensive jobs that didn’t require much in the way of training or skills. But here’s the thing: anything that’s labor-intensive is now being done elsewhere, for much less than you would accept as a pay rate. No company in their right mind would bring those jobs back here. As an example, let’s take Apple Corporation’s outsourcing the manufacturing of iPhones to FoxConn, a Chinese company. What nobody told you (or apparently, Mr. Trump) is that FoxConn turns out those millions of units using fewer than 100 employees, and they’re mostly engaged in packaging and shipping. 85% of an iPhone’s manufacturing is automated: it’s built by robots. So, yes, I suppose you could force Apple to build a factory in the USA. But do you suppose they wouldn’t also build the doggone thing with robots? Of course they would.
This is the reality that the snake oil salesmen have avoided telling you this election season. What’s worse, they aren’t telling you that the move away from those jobs is accelerating. They aren’t telling you that by 2025, many of the jobs we currently take for granted will be gone, replaced by automation or cheaper competition from overseas. Think of it this way: the only place you find elevator operators today is in old movies. Fairly soon, anyone who drives for a living, works in the fast-food industry, works in a warehouse or does general office work will be looking for a new career. How can I say that with certainty? Because those jobs are already being slowly replaced. Amazon now has robots doing order picking. McDonald’s is rolling out ordering kiosks in their restaurants. Self-driving vehicles are already on the roads, and companies like Uber and UPS are already in partnerships with vehicle makers to implement driverless delivery systems.
In other words, you needn’t be prescient to realize that the jobs of today are disappearing and that the jobs of yesterday are not coming back. But rather than gird Americans for this reality, we get platitudes about “forcing” manufacturing jobs back to US shores. When future jobs are discussed at all, it’s usually with vague rejoinders about “getting the skills for the jobs of tomorrow.” The politicians are afraid to tell you the truth. It’s a truth I suspect most of you have already grasped, even if you haven’t acknowledged it.
This isn’t the first time we’ve undergone a dramatic shift in the workforce. Over a century ago, our great-grandparents were faced with the shift from an agrarian society to a manufacturing one. They didn’t handle it particularly well. Now it’s out turn, as we lurch from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge economy. But we can do one of two things: we can embrace it and lead the world once again. Or we can fight it and get left behind, becoming a second-rate power.
I penned the following letter to the Honorable Christopher Christie, Governor of the State of New Jersey. I thought all of you might want to read it, as well.
Dear Governor Christie:
I am writing to bring your attention to the case of MGySgt Richard Zahn (retired), USMC. I consider it probable that you are personally unaware of his situation, otherwise I cannot believe you would allow him to be in his current circumstances.
MGySgt Zahn is currently incarcerated at the Bergen County Jail, having been convicted of several weapons offenses. Yet, the conviction and offenses are related to his defending himself from a known member of the Latin Kings street gang while in New Jersey to visit his ailing (since deceased) mother. His weapon was never discharged, and in point of fact, his actions that day led to a de-escalation of what would have otherwise been a tragic and lethal encounter.
MGySgt Zahn has served this nation with distinction for nearly 40 years. In his 26 years as an active duty Marine, he deployed into combat on 5 occassions and earned more commendations than can be listed here. They include two Purple Hearts for combat injuries and a Bronze Star. Since his retirement, MGySgt Zahn worked with Homeland Security, training FBI agents and other LEOs (including our own State Police) in anti-terrorism tactics and techniques. For his efforts and success in this work, he received a personal commendation from Louis Freeh. He has also received personal letters of commendation from the Commandant of the Marine Corps (and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs) Gen. James Dunford and Gen. James Mattis, former commander of USCentCom.
Given your strong positions against terrorism and the threats it poses to our nation, I’m certain you are aware that anyone receiving these types of personal commendations cannot be someone of poor character, or someone who is given to making rash and impetuous decisons that would risk public safety. That MGySgt Zahn is sitting behind bars for simply doing as he was trained – and has trained others – to do is a miscarriage of justice. Worse, it’s an affront to every law abiding citizen in the United States. Further, I know as a former prosecutor, once you’ve reviewed his case you’ll be left to wonder why (as have many thousands of citizens around the country) it was ever brought to trial. You might also want to note that his case is beginning to receive national attention. The kind of attention that is not doing our state’s reputation any good.
Do the right and honorable thing, Governor. Pardon MGySgt Zahn and have him released today.
Once again, if you haven’t signed the petition demanding Chris Christie pardon Rich Zahn, you can find it here. Please do so soon. The more pressure we bring to bear on the Governor, the better. That any man should sit behind bars in these United States simply because he uses a weapon to defend himself is insane. If that person happens to be a true American hero, like Rich Zahn, and we do nothing to defend him, then we shouldn’t be able to look at ourselves in the mirror.
Yesterday, I brought you the story of Master Gunnery Sergeant (retired) Richard Zahn and his ridiculous imprisonment, all because an overzealous prosecutor, a soviet-style liberal judge and the New Jersey legislature’s paranoia about guns formed into a perfect storm around his case. Many of you have reached out in support of Rich Zahn, and for that I thank you. But one person sent me this link and my sense of bewilderment and outrage got sparked all over again.
This is a case that has received some notoriety, although I admit I was unaware of it until I opened that link. It concerns Michael Giles, a US Air Force airman who became entangled in a bar brawl – and as a result, is now spending 25 years in a Florida prison for the crime of defending himself. Although there are differences between his story and that of Rich Zahn’s, there are some striking similarities:
- Both men are combat veterans and career military.
- Both men found themselves in unwanted, potentially lethal situations.
- Both men used a licensed firearm to defend themselves.
- Both men found themselves victimized twice, first by their attacker and later by misguided anti-gun laws.
Here’s a synopsis of Michael’s story. In 2010, he and some friends went to a bar in the Tampa area. Two rival fraternities were also at that bar and a brawl broke out between them. Michael and his friends left the bar but became separated in the melee, at which point Michael retrieved his weapon from their vehicle. As he turned to look for his friends, he found himself in a crowd of approximately 40 brawling men. Somebody hit him from behind, knocking him to the ground and as they were getting ready to follow-up the assault, Michael fired once, striking him in the leg.
None of this is in dispute. During his trial, even his assailant admitted to an unprovoked attack with intent to do Michael serious bodily harm. It’s a clear cut case of self defense, or at least it should be. Except, he used a firearm – and the prosecutor flat-out said that was the crime. In fact, the prosecutor tried to make the case that because Michael used a firearm to defend himself, he was guilty of attempted murder. I do not know the prosecutor’s motivation in making that charge. Perhaps he thinks all career military types are capable of defeating 40 angry, drunk brawlers with their bare-hands. Maybe he thinks Michael received some sort of specialized training from Chuck Norris. It could be he thought, being in the Air Force, Michael could call in a flight of A-10’s to quell the mini-riot.
But here’s what I do know. Michael Giles used a firearm to defend himself and is now spending 25 years behind bars. Richard Zahn used a firearm to defend himself and is now spending 5 years behind bars. The linkage is unmistakable: if you dare to assert your Second Amendment rights, expect some liberal in the criminal justice system to hammer you like a nail. In wacky liberal land, the only thing worse than a gun is the person who actually uses a gun to defend themselves or others. Better you should be a rotting corpse on a slab, I suppose.
That these two outstanding citizens are facing this nightmare is what the insanity of the left is doing to our country, and it’s time we put an end to it. So what can you do? First, let’s get these guys out of prison. If you haven’t signed Rich Zahn’s petition yet, you can find it here. And you can find Michael Giles’ here. Next, it’s time to get rid of these ridiculous anti-gun laws that turn law-abiding citizens into criminals, simply because they dare to defend themselves. These two cases give us two places to start, New Jersey and Florida. As luck would have it, these also are two states that have governors seeking national prominence and who claim to be staunch conservatives. I say it’s time to put them to the test. Write, call, organize protests at the state house steps. Let’s let Chris Christie and Rick Scott know that the time for talk is over. It’s time to actually do something.
And in the meantime, they can use their executive powers to let two unjustly convicted comabt veterans go home to their families.
February 24, 2014. Hackensack, NJ. A relatively quiet town in the Garden State. A highly decorated combat veteran of three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with Kosovo and Kuwait, driving from his current home in North Carolina to visit his extremely ill mother at Hackensack University Medical Center. Little did he know that he was about to become a victim – not of a crime, but of New Jersey’s draconian and antiquated anti-gun laws.
MGySgt Richard Zahn served for 26 years in the US Marine Corps, earning a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. After retiring, Rich worked as a civilian contractor for Homeland Security. His job? Training FBI agents and young Marine leaders in anti-terrorism tactics. Rich also possesses a concealed carry permit in North Carolina. In addition to his military honors, he’s also received personal commendations from General James Dunford, Commandant of the Marine Corps and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (select); General James Mattis, former US Central Command commander and Louis Freeh, former Director of the FBI.
None of that would matter at 9:30 that morning, though. After receiving the call about his mother’s turn for the worse the night before, Rich was nearing the end of his 10 hour drive to be with her. Since he had just finished a live a fire exercise right before receiving the call, he still had his TO weapons in his truck: a .306 sniper rifle and AR-15. As is his custom, he also carried his legally licensed sidearm, a M&P .40 caliber pistol (he is on Al-Qeada’s hit list, after all). As he rounded a bend in the road, a SUV suddenly veered in front of him – and Richard Zahn’s day was about to get much, much worse.
The SUV was driven by one Jorge Polo, a previously convicted and known member of the Latin Kings street gang. Polo forced Rich off the road and began approaching Rich’s truck. Reacting in accordance with his training and experience, Rich produced his sidearm – finger off the trigger-guard, weapon up and away from his assailant. When Polo continued his advance, Rich reached into his truck and grabbed his .306, again pointing the weapon up and away from any target. At that point, Polo realized he had bitten off more than he could chew, clambered back into his car and drove off. Rich, thinking nothing more than that he was glad he had left New Jersey and it’s crazy drivers years ago, continued on to visit his mother in the hospital. You can read more about the incident at Allen West’s blog.
That’s where he was arrested by the Hackensack Police Department, for having illegal and unlawful weapons, transporting “assault weapons” across state lines, and two counts of brandishing a firearm in a threatening manner. Right outside his mother’s hospital room, the Hackensack police made every effort to ensure that the ever dangerous criminal MGySgt Richard Zahn was quickly taken into custody, thereby protecting the citizens of the Garden State from a twice wounded combat veteran.
After more than a year of trying to fight his way through New Jersey’s byzantine legal system, especially when it comes to guns and gun ownership, Rich was sentenced on March 27 of this year. A detachment of Marines from around the country was present, including me. The prosecutor had Mr. Polo read a victim statement. That Mr. Polo could be considered a victim in this shows you just how screwed up this state’s laws are. (Sidebar: one of the Marines present is a resident of Bergen County and through a few connections, found that Jorge Polo had outstanding warrants in NY and PA. Immediately after reading his statement, in which he described how he damn near pooped his pants, and exiting the courtroom, Mr. Polo was taken into custody by the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department. Karma is a bitch.) The judge, Liliana Deavila-Sibeli, then pronounced sentence: 5 years, with a 42 month period of parole ineligibility. In her remarks, Ms. Sibeli noted that Richard Zahn, retired Marine with more commendations than letters in her name, is a deranged individual and extremely dangerous person. She made sure to note that guns are inherently dangerous in the hands of any but law enforcement. She also dropped this bombshell: if it were up to her, combat veterans should never be allowed to have weapons, because “combat veterans are homicidal psychopaths in waiting.”
That’s right. Hide the women and children – a combat veteran might be in your midst! They kill people for no reason! That such pure left wing dreck could actually occupy a Superior Court bench in the United States is a topic for another time, though.
That’s the story of what happened, Now for your chance to change the ending to this tale, help free a Marine guilty of nothing more than defending himself and – HEAVEN FORBID! – owning a US Constitutionally allowed gun. This past week, Rich’s lawyer exhausted his last appeal to get the sentence overturned. As you’re probably aware, the Governor of New Jersey is the honorable Christopher J. Christie, potential Republican nominee for President of the United States. Recently, Gov. Christie pardoned a woman from Philadelphia in a similar case. It certainly seems if Chris Christie can find reason to pardon a welfare mother from Philly for having a firearm in her vehicle, he can do the same for decorated combat Marine veteran. Especially if he wants to be taken seriously as a candidate in the Republican primary.
There is currently a petition circulating, asking Chris Christie to pardon Richard Zahn. All I am asking of you is to review the facts of this case as described here (they are not disputed by anyone) and then take two minutes of your time to sign the petition. You can find it here.
And Governor Christie? We’ll be watching. Don’t make Rich Zahn wait for justice any longer.
I began this morning the way I usually do, by opening my Bible and reading a passage, then moving on to Facebook and looking at the overnight posts from my friends. Usually, this is a great way to start the day: I get my moral gyroscope spinning with the right orientation and then lighten my mood by seeing the crazy stuff people I know were up to the night before. I especially enjoy the memes that get posted. As those of you who follow me on the Zuckerberg Express are certainly aware, I’m a pretty snarky person and love ironic humor.
But this morning…well, this morning is different. All of the Ferguson memes, styled in a way that ordinarily would at least get a chuckle from me, didn’t have that effect. Instead, they only filled me with a sense of sadness. Pictures that are repurposed to make you laugh have instead left me wanting to cry – and that’s why I now worry if, in fact, I’m getting too old.
I worry about that, because I know it’s an old-fashioned idea that senseless and needless violence simply isn’t a source of humor. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not unfamiliar with senseless violence. After all, I live in Newark, not exactly a paragon of domestic tranquility. In my decades of life, I’ve witnessed dozens of riots similar to the ones we’re seeing in Ferguson. And yet, somehow, these riots have touched me in a way that none of those others did.
Maybe it’s the circumstances that led up to them. There seems to be a sickness in our society, a malady that is on the edge of my understanding without my truly being able to grasp it. At the core, the source of the riots and the accompanying (no longer funny) memes is this: blacks in America are certain the police are gunning for them. Whites in America think that idea is a bunch of baloney. Try as I might, I cannot find a way to bridge that difference – and I don’t think anyone else has the answer, either. That very real possibility is the source of my angst, because I’ve always believed in America as the world’s best hope for a Shining City on a Hill – and if we’ve failed in that mission, we’ve failed in so much more.
If America is not the nation of our collective imagination, one where any man can rise as high (or sink as low) as he chooses based solely on his abilities and desires, then we have a serious problem. If America is not a nation where we strive to make that dream a reality, then we have a problem. If America is simply a nation where an entire class of people believes they are to be permanently impressed as nothing more than the punching bags for everyone else, then we have an even bigger problem. How do you change someone’s belief system, one they see reinforced on a daily basis in their personal experience, even if the reinforcement is only perceived?
I don’t know, but I find my mind traveling back to the time of my youth. Men like Bobby Kennedy and Ralph Abernathy provided the leadership to help guide America towards our goal of realizing Shining City on a Hill status. Of course, foremost among the men of that day was Dr. Martin Luther King and I think of the speech he gave 46 years ago in Memphis. Many remember it as the call to arms for the sanitation worker strike; others as the last speech Dr. King would ever give. I recall it for the simple sermon Dr. King gave towards the end of the speech, in which he relayed how the Parable of the Good Samaritan should infect our modern lives. He talked of the time he and his wife traveled the Jordan Road and was made aware of how the travelers could ignore the mugged man’s plight, how the dangers of that road were evident even in his day. (By the way, if you ever get a chance, you’ll see it still hasn’t changed). But most importantly, he talked about how the Good Samaritan took the element of danger and turned it on it’s head. I don’t remember the exact quote, but it was something along the lines of, “Rather than asking ‘What is the danger to me if I stop to help, he asked what is the danger to him if I do not stop?'”
Maybe that passage still holds true today and maybe that’s where we’ve lost our way. Maybe we’ve simply stopped asking ourselves what the danger is to our nation and our society, if we stop to help the guy who’s in trouble. If instead, we’ve become so insular as to be unable to even see that question, much less answer it.
I’m not sure. But for now, I’m going to find some old Three Stooges shorts and see if some senseless violence can restore my humor.
For better or worse, race is an explosive topic in our country. A lot of that has to do with the inherent fear we have, as a society, to address the topic head-on. That’s largely because when somebody does address the topic calmly, rationally and in a non-PC way, they stand the very real chance of being slandered, vilified and demonized. Witness Mark Cuban, the often outspoken tech entrepreneur and owner of the NBA Dallas Mavericks:
“I mean, we’re all prejudiced in one way or another. If I see a black kid in a hoodie and it’s late at night, I’m walking to the other side of the street. And if on that side of the street, there’s a guy that has tattoos all over his face — white guy, bald head, tattoos everywhere — I’m walking back to the other side of the street. And the list goes on of stereotypes that we all live up to and are fearful of. So in my businesses, I try not to be hypocritical. I know that I’m not perfect. I know that I live in a glass house, and it’s not appropriate for me to throw stones.”
Cuban made those comments in an interview for Inc. magazine and was immediately slandered, vilified and demonized for them. He was labeled a racist for admitting that he, as with everyone else in the world, has prejudices. It was an over-reaction by people who’ve been conditioned in such a way as to confuse racism with prejudice.
Here’s the difference. A racist is not only someone who has prejudicial views, but refuses to acknowledge those prejudices – and then, by being in a position of power or authority, acts in a way that denigrates or injures the prejudiced. A racist varies from a bigot, in that a bigot allows their prejudices to form their world view but isn’t in any real position to act to perpetuate that view.
So, is Mark Cuban a racist? No. He is, in fact, the embodiment of what Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of when he pleaded with the world to judge men by their character, not their color.
Herein lies the problem with discussing race relations in this country: nobody, other than the PC, are allowed to talk about the topic. Unspoken in Cuban’s words, but certainly implied is that not only whites have prejudices – but other races, as well. And the PC brigades cannot allow for even the slightest possibility that such a truth to be uttered in public.
This is dangerous territory. The forced public misinterpretation of the relationship between prejudice and racism is more than a liberal meme – it is a lynchpin of liberal politics. For decades now, liberals have successfully blurred the distinction, so that blacks and latinos are told they cannot be prejudiced, because that would mean they’re also racists. At the same time, whites in liberal enclaves have been demonized and shamed into refusing to face their own prejudices. We’ve become a society where nobody is looking in the mirror, but everyone is yelling racism at the slightest perceived slight.
Further, by declaring that only white people with prejudicial feelings can be racists, the liberal crowd continues to prey on the “communities of color.” How? By constantly telling these people that their feelings aren’t prejudice, per se, but rather a natural reaction to centuries of being subjugated, they’re delivering a “message of empowerment.” It is, of course, a lot of hooey – and a message that consistently delivers a sizable voting bloc to the liberal cause.
But until everyone faces up to their own prejudices, the same way Mark Cuban has done – the same way very successful leader I’ve ever met has done – we will never get past the issue of race in our country. We’ll continue to be a nation of people with hyphens rather than a nation of Americans.
A quick thought about how the cars we drive are a reflection of who we are as a nation. Once, the United States was a nation of risk-takers. Today, we’re more concerned with personal safety and about as risk-averse as a society can be.
A pretty good example can be found in what we drive. The first car I remember my parents owning was a 1968 Plymouth Fury III, very similar to the one pictured above. (Heck, it’s even the same color). There really wasn’t anything safe about that car. Well, it did have rear disc brakes, but that’s about it. No seat belts, no crumple zones. Not even safety glass. And you know what? My parents weren’t overly worried about safety, either. I have fond memories of my Dad tearing down a highway at 75 mph with my sister and I jumping up and down on the backseat. About the only time my folks would even mention the concept of safety was if we attempted to crawl from the back to the front. Safety meant that you were driving 3 tons of steel with 383 cubic inches of V8 engine, churning out 330 horsepower.
Now, the Fury III wasn’t anything special in it’s day. It was a pretty run-of-the-mill family car, not unlike a modern Camry. But stop to think of all the features in the the typical family sedan today. How many of you would buy a Camry stripped of its seat belts, air bags, bucket seats, headrests, and so forth? I doubt there are many – even if the government allowed it, despite the fact removing them would knock several thousand dollars off the price of the car. And how many of you would allow your kids the freedom to jump around on the backseat in such a car?
The analogy is this: once the idea of government mandating safety, at a personal financial cost, was such an outlier that it didn’t happen. Today, we’ve become so accustomed to the nanny state telling us how to act – expecting it to protect us from ourselves – that we’ve lost that risk-taking, freewheeling attitude. And we’re not better off for it.
»Van service scheduled to arrive at 8:40. Van actually arrived at 9:40.
» Report for bloodwork upon arrival. Receptionist cannot find order. Wait ten minutes and walk back up to window. Voila! The order magically appears.
» Two hours between blood and next appointment. Decide to get lunch. Choices include a desiccated salad bar, microwaved cheeseburger (possibly cooked this year), day-old pizza, a steam table full of unidentifiable mush and fresh-made subs. Opt for the sub. Discover the rolls might have been baked at some point since the Civil War. At least the Doritos were fresh.
» With still an hour to kill, I wander into the “Patriot Store,” which is about as well named as the “Patriot Act.” If I wanted to deal with self-absorbed and surly employees, and pay $80 for a $20 sweater, I’d go to Nordstrom. At least the selection would be better.
» Go to check-in for my next appointment. The VA is in the middle of a new efficiency drive, which means things are more mucked up than ever. (When the government says they’ll make things more efficient, you know things are really done for.) Instead of a relatively smooth 5 minute process, it now takes two employees 20 minutes to check me in. Of course, now I’m late for my appointment. As a thank you for my patience, I receive a “buy one, get one” coupon for bottled water… from the Patriot Store. It expires on Monday.
» Only need to wait 25 minutes to see the doctor. During that time, a nurse takes my vitals and asks probing questions. These include “Do you like my engagement ring?” and “Can you breathe?” No, I have gills like a fish. And to be perfectly honest, either her fiancee is cheating on her or honestly thinks Cracker Jack is a jewelry store.
» The meeting with the doctor goes fine. I have to admit, this VA hospital’s partnering with UMDNJ has brought some top-notch docs into the system. But the doc decides it’s time for my biannual colonoscopy – one of the little joys of Crohn’s Disease. So he asks me to wait for his secretary to schedule the procedure and walks me to her office…
» Uh, oh. The secretary is engaged in a VERY IMPORTANT CONVERSATION about her weekend plans. After a few minutes, she notices me standing outside her door and asks me to take a seat across the hall – she’ll get in trouble if somebody notices I’m standing there. I bite my tongue and take the a seat. After a few more minutes of hearing the virtues of one nightclub versus another, I walk into the office and ask, if it’s not too much of a bother, if she would kindly DO HER JOB and schedule my colonoscopy.
» Next stop, pharmacy. For those of you who’ve never been to a VA pharmacy, it’s something like a slow-motion shuttle run. First you check into the pharmacy. You then go to another counter, where a pharmacist reads your prescription off a computer screen back to you. Next, you return to the first counter, where you hand over a hand-written slip from the pharmacist. (Seriously. The pharmacist hand writes the prescription that the doctor submitted by computer. The Soviets couldn’t have come up with anything more ridiculous). You then take a seat and wait a bit for your prescription to be filled. For today, there was a new wrinkle: the check-in person decided there were too many vets in line and cakes everyone at once. Are you familiar with the term “cluster fuck?”
» My prescription needs to be kept refrigerated, but the pharmacy doesn’t have any ice. Perfectly logical, by VA standards. I return to the Patriot Store, but they’ve already closed for the weekend. I try the cafeteria. The doors are bolted – but a soda vending machine stands at the ready. I dutifully insert my dollar. The cost for a can of soda: one dollar. The machine digests my dollar bill, thinks for a moment, then displays “CANNOT MAKE CHANGE” and spits out four quarters. I insert the quarters, get the same message and four quarters. On my third attempt, I actually get a soda – and my four quarters. I leave my Patriot Store coupon as payment.
» It’s now 3:50 and the van is scheduled to pick me up at 4:30. I hang out in the main lobby, shooting the breeze. 4:30 comes, 4:30 goes, no van arrives. I consider heading over to the travel office, but decide against it. After all, it’s 4:30 on a Friday afternoon and the odds of finding anyone there (much less anyone who would do more than say, “Give it a few more minutes”) are somewhere between zero and none. The van finally shows at 5:30.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook know I recently spent 8 days hospitalized once again. My ongoing battle with Crohn’s Disease, one that has consumed the last 22+ years of my life, remains unrelenting. Like all of such events over the past three years or so, this hospitalization didn’t end with long-term remission of my disease activity or even the hope of a near term remission.
I could complain and I doubt many of you would be upset if I do so. But I’ve never really been one for complaining about things beyond my control, nor do I think that really accomplishes much. Certainly, venting can ease the mind but it’s only a temporary relief. I pointed out once before that life’s recent turns have, if anything, made me more reflective and this most recent turn only served to reinforce that attitude.
But reflective of what, exactly? Well, in a word: EVERYTHING.
Faith, religion, why we’re here? Yes. My personal history, my family, friends and relationships? You bet. Medicine and medical research? Naturally. My overarching view of our world, our past and our future? Certainly.
There are only so many times a man can stare at his own mortality without contemplating the wonder and the why of it all, I suppose. Or the alternative could likewise be true: all these brushes with Death’s door may have already left me insane – in which case, you’ve been reading the rantings of a madman. We’re about to embark on a journey to find out which is true over the next few days and weeks. I’ll leave the decisions about my sanity to your discretion – which considering my readership, may be the boldest move I’ve made yet!
For a blog that spends as much time on political matters as mine, you may be wondering how I managed to leave any mention of that topic from my list of contemplations. But here’s your first point to ponder in judging my perspicacity: isn’t the political the one realm where we publicly express our personal philosophy?
Tomorrow, we begin…
Perhaps because I’ve never believed our nation is a bunch of redistributive idiots at heart, I’ve watched as the country plunged headfirst towards Obamacare with fascination. Maybe because nearly all my adult life is partly defined by my battle with Crohn’s Disease, I pay an inordinate amount of of attention to the Battle for Health Care Reform. Could be because I am even now lying in a hospital bed in the latest go-round with Crohn’s, I’m amazed at the dizzying pace of lies pouring forth from the administration of President Barack Obama over the past four weeks.
What is most sad is that a sizable chunk of the American people are just sitting back and taking it. Despite the evidence of their own eyes from the past four years, they continue to loll about and let the administration get away with the greatest government take-over of American life in history. I’m stupified by the willingness of the American citizenry to just play ostrich when they should at least get to strutting like Foghorn Leghorn.
Then it hit me.
With all the force of a Superstorm, it hit me square in the face. After 40 years of war, debt, moral erosion and political scandal, the American people are tired of dealing with it all – and longing for something they never experienced. The Founding Fathers left us a political and economic system that only works if everyone (or nearly everyone) participates. Most people don’t participate unless they have either a very personal interest in a particular program or they’re corrupt enough to look upon governement service as a way to create individual wealth.
More later. As mentioned, I’m typing this from a hospital bed. In the meantime, am I on the right track? Is the reason most Americans just don’t care because we’ve spent four generations being battered into submission?
“The natural distribution is neither just nor unjust; nor is it unjust that persons are born into society at some particular position. These are simply natural facts. What is just and unjust is the way that institutions deal with these facts.” ― John Rawls, A Theory of Justice
Recent events in my own life have forced me to re-examine some of my most deeply held convictions. During the time I’ve been absent from this blog (wait – you didn’t notice???), four events in particular gave rise to self-reflection:
- Crohn’s Disease, with which I’ve done battle for 22 years, once again reared up and forced me to the sidelines
- My eldest son, who was born with a developmental disability, is now caught up in the nightmare that is the state mental health system
- I’ve rented a room to a family that is emblematic of all that is wrong with the way government abuses good people
- Another of my tenants passed away during the night
You’re probably wondering why I would spend the time to ponder what one prominent politician describes as “esoteric debates” when life brings such immediacy. You’re probably wondering further why I would take the time to write about that internal debate. The answer is that such internal debates are neither esoteric nor a thriftlessness exercise. It is by determining if our views are malleable to the events in our lives that we discover if our core values are the result of dogma or the sound exercise of judgement.
The overarching theme of President Obama’s tenure is that of “fairness.” Only, in Mr. Obama’s world, the fairness is defined by outcome; one in which those aggrieved receive what they deem to be their just share. This doctrine is exemplified in the policy objectives of his administration. Be it the underlying argument for Obamacare (that the only fair medical system is one in which everyone has health insurance), economic policy, the tacit embrace of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the management of foreign policy (attempting the equal embrace of islamist and democratic ideologies abroad) or dozens of other initiatives pursued, Mr. Obama is clear in how he defines “fair.” Further, his actions (including his insistence on defending the possibly unconstitutional and certainly intrusive domestic spying program) demonstrate a certainty that governmental institutions are the best method of obtaining this measure of fairness while denigrating the roles of other, traditional venues.
Unlike many of the President’s critics, I do not think he is an uncaring ogre bent on instituting a draconian new way of life on the American people. Although we disagree on most issues, I certainly applaud his efforts to afford all people equal protections under the law. I think it is indicative of his nature, in that he actually cares about the quality of life afforded ordinary Americans. I think most of my fellow countrymen have that same feeling and that underlying belief in his nature is the ultimate reason he won re-election – even though most of us remain opposed to his specific action plan.
I also think that more than a difference in political philosophy, we have divergent views on reality and possibility that slice to the core of our differences. The President is what might best be termed a government interventionist. Government Interventionism infects both the modern liberal and conservative movements. It is characterized by a belief that not only can the government positively effect outcomes, but that it should. While conservatives and liberals often have different goals in mind, they agree with the principle of a results-based system. As anyone who follows me on Facebook or Twitter is well aware, I have never subscribed to this view of governance.
My introspection of the past weeks has called me to wonder if, perhaps, this approach is best. One of the criticisms of Libertarians is that we are a callous bunch, uncaring about how life’s travails affect our fellow men. Those who know me personally know this isn’t the case. Of the root causes for my self-reflective journey, two involved people that I know cursorily. Yet, they are people who strike me as somehow getting less from life than their character would indicate they deserve.
Allow me to begin with the woman who died in her room last Wednesday. Although I knew her only a few months, what I did know belied her situation. She worked full-time (a rarity in today’s economy) and was well-respected by both her coworkers and employer, she had a large and close-knit family and she was outgoing, gregarious even. Yet, she died alone in rented room, the victim of a long battle with a chronic illness; in her case, diabetes. From what I could see, it was not a pleasant or painless death. She must have known she was in desperate trouble – I found her collapsed at the foot of her bed, in a position indicating she struggled to get to her door, with her phone fallen from her outstretched hand and smashed into bits. If we live in a results based society, why did she die in this manner? What could society have done differently that would have ensured that at the very least, one of her family would have been with her in her time of greatest need? At her funeral on Saturday, meeting her family and friends and seeing the outpouring of grief that overcame them all, I wondered why a woman so beloved by so many, who had done all society asked of her, should have been subjected to such a terrible death?
The week prior to her passing, I rented a room to a family of four. One room, four people, sharing a kitchen and bath with three other tenants. These are decent people, again doing all society says they should do. Both parents work and the mother attends nursing school; the children are incredibly well behaved (I wish mine had been so well behaved!). But they are victims of governmental bureaucracy as much as anything. The father openly admits to making mistakes when he was younger, which resulted in a felony conviction two decades ago. Since then, he’s done the things we tell him he should do: work to support his family, avoid the drama of street life, return to school and complete his GED. He would like to continue his education, but supports his wife as she works towards getting her degree. This is a family, in short, that is playing by all the rules our society dictates – yet they are reduced to living four to a single room, because it is all they can afford. The welfare system, the one that liberals tell us prevents this type of thing from happening and conservatives insist is too generous, is unavailable to them unless the father abandons his family. It is his decades old prior conviction that denies them access to it. Somehow, this result doesn’t seem fair to me.
Along the same lines, my personal struggle with chronic illness – in particular, a 22 year battle with Crohn’s Disease – has become much more difficult over the past two years. Over that time, I’ve had to shutter a business, spent nearly 8 months (cumulative) hospitalized and watched my family’s wealth get drained until we were destitute. I’ve rebounded some financially, but am in no way near the same fiscal position I was in 2011. Most of those around me think it unfair that my life has taken such a drastic turn, or that my reality is I’m likely wheelchair bound within the next two years and probably blind in less time than that. Certainly I wish there were a better prognosis.
Finally, there is my oldest son, Dennis. Some of my long-time readers are aware that he is what society euphemistically calls “developmentally disabled.” His reality is that he will never comprehend things the way you or I do. His IQ is 54; intellectually his development is equivalent to a second grader, emotionally he is at roughly the same stage as most 13- or 14-year olds. So while physically he’s a strapping 25 year old young man, his mind has yet to catch up to his body. Odds are that the two will never be in sync. This is the crux of his current problem. Because of his condition, he finds it difficult to express his feelings, except to occasionally blow up the way most 14 year old boys will. About 6 weeks ago, he found himself in a situation where he was being teased (not an uncommon situation, unfortunately) and lost his temper. The police were called; they followed protocol and brought him to the emergency room for observation. Which is where the nightmare began. Rather than checking his medical records, the hospital diagnosed Dennis as a violent schizophrenic and packed him off to the closest mental hospital. The doctor (I use the term in deference to his degree, not his competence) there confirmed the diagnosis, again ignoring his medical condition. A competency hearing was held, in which the doctor amplified his diagnosis to include the term “homicidal.” And so my son sits in a mental hospital, not understanding what’s happening or why as we fight to have him moved to another facility and have a new diagnosis issued that accounts for his disability. I’m not sure who would consider this outcome “fair.” If the President thought the justice system was ultimately unfair to the family of Trayvon Martin, I can’t see how he could consider this fair.
In reflecting on these incidents, each with an outcome which seems disproportionate in outcome to circumstance, I wondered if the results would be different were the fairness doctrine imposed by society replaced by libertarian values. Chances are that in three cases, the results would be the same but the perception would be different.
- In a Libertarian society, we would acknowledge that the young lady who died chose to live her final days alone. While there still would be sadness accompanying her death, it wouldn’t be considered unfair that she had neither friends nor family with her in her final hours.
- For the family renting the single room, society wouldn’t consider it unfair that a hard working mother and father would resort to housing their family in these conditions. In a Libertarian society, they would be celebrated as examples of how to face adversity.
- As for my health, nobody would consider it unfair that I’m sick and fated to becoming sicker. Unfortunate? Unlucky? Sure, those sentiments would be common. But the choices my family made in previous years were our own and left us in the financial position we find ourselves. I knew my health was precarious before launching my last business; it was our choice to take that route as opposed to my taking a job in what is a poor economy. Using Libertarian values, we took a calculated risk that proved unwise. But in the interventionist society we live in, we demonstrated incredible recklessness and need to be saved from ourselves.
Libertarians believe that fairness in opportunity is far more important than fairness of outcome. After all, if everyone is free to pursue their life’s goals – if they are truly at liberty – then the outcomes are inherently fair. Differences in outcome will have more to do with natural ability and desire than anything a government can do. While the odds are that the above situations would not be dramatically different than in a Libertarian society, there is one important way in which one of those situations would be better. The people above would be less constrained by a restrictive society. The family in one room may well be much better off, since Libertarians tend to look at most drug laws as counter-productive – meaning no felony record for the father. He would certainly have better employment opportunities without that black mark.
As for my son, a Libertarian society would probably mean all the difference in the world for him right now. Without the modern police state in which presumed innocence is nothing more than a tired cliche, it’s doubtful he would be where he is now.
So, yes, I’ve reflected and pondered. You’ve read my conclusions. You may not agree with them, but I end this period of introspection confident in my core belief that the equitable outcomes can only be guaranteed by the one truly fair system ever known to humankind. That is, that by believing in the individual and providing them with the liberty to achieve to their individual potential, a government does its best service to the governed.
Unless you live under a rock, in a cave on a deserted island, by now you’re certainly aware that George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges in the death of Trayvon Martin. There are no heroes in this case. From what I’ve read about both of the principals, I can’t honestly see how anyone would want to emulate their behavior. George Zimmerman comes across as a power hungry hothead with more ego than common sense. Trayvon Martin was a wannabe gang-banger, sent to Sanford from Little Haiti by his mother because he had spent the past year in continuous trouble with authority.
Their chance encounter was a recipe for disaster. That it ended in one was predictable – and preventable. The real culprit is neither George Zimmerman nor Trayvon Martin, regardless of their latent anti-social tendencies. It is not the prosecutor, a woman with political aspirations who went forward with a prosecution despite lacking any evidence. It is not the original investigators, who concluded (correctly, in hindsight) that there was insufficient evidence to charge Zimmerman. It is not the jury, who reached the only conclusion feasible with the evidence presented.
The real culprits are those the residents of Sanford, FL pay to prevent these types of tragedies from happening: their police.
The Sanford police are not culprits because they let Zimmerman walk after the initial investigation. As shown during the trial there wasn’t enough evidence to warrant an arrest, much less charge with a crime. Instead, they deserve goat’s horns because their initial response was horrifically slow. Drive time from the nearest police substation to where the shooting occurred is less than 6 minutes; it took the police more than 8 to arrive after the initial call by Zimmerman to arrive. The responding officer arrived 5 seconds after the fatal shot was fired. Think about that for a moment: had the police simply driven the speed limit, the physical confrontation between the two men would have been averted. Further, the reason Zimmerman took it upon himself to patrol his neighborhood was due to a rash of robberies. There had been three in the previous five days; the description of the suspects were of “young, african-american males wearing hooded sweatshirts” (those robberies have yet to be solved).
Additionally, the management of the law enforcement in Sanford is a case study in how not to run a small city police force. The crime rate is comparable to that of notoriously crime laden large cities like New York, Newark and Miami. In the five years prior to the Martin-Zimmerman altercation, the Sanford police had been implicated in cases involving police cover-ups and racially motivated shootings. Because of the police department’s history, they left themselves open to charges of misconduct and negligence by those who looked to politically profit from the incident.
So, there’s the reality of the situation. The vast majority of us would never have heard of Trayvon Martin or George Zimmerman had the Sanford PD simply been competent.
Some years ago I decided to walk up to Pacific Avenue in Wildwood, with the sole purpose of watching the parade of classic cars. Little did I know when I began walking down Wildwood Avenue that within minutes, my life would forever be changed.
It was the night I met you. Never a more fortuitous moment came across any man’s life.
You were standing there, in front of my friend Steve’s bicycle rental stand, where I always went to watch the parade. I had never seen a more beautiful vision in my life. You had just come from work, your hair somewhat mussed, and still…I was drawn to you, the way a moth is drawn to a bug zapper. You slew my playboy ways without even looking in my direction, much less saying anything to me. They say love at first sight doesn’t exist. You and I know better; that when you find the person God decided is the one for you, everything else fades away.
In all my life, I had never been so anxious and nervous to strike up a conversation with another person. Thankfully, that ’67 GTO rolled by and gave me my chance:
“Sweet car,” I said.
“Yes, it is” you answered.
And then you walked away. I thought I had blown it, although I didn’t know why. But I was certain that I had just missed on something spectacular. But God, in his wisdom, never lets the folly of men get in his way – and it was to my immense joy that I found you at my hotel pool later that evening. Little did I know then that the same things I felt in front of that bicycle stand were shared by you.
That summer bore fruit to a whirlwind romance between Raymond Rothfeldt and Linda Shelly. It was a fantastic time and ended one night at Neil’s Steak House. It ended with me on one knee, asking your hand in marriage. Of course, I never expected to shock you with the proposal – and I never expected to spend an eternity on one balky knee waiting for an answer. But I did; I would again.
13 years ago today we married. It proved to become the perfect metaphor for our lives together. From the JP disappearing less than an hour before the wedding (leading to our being married by Fred Wager, in his Hawaiian shirt) to the mis-sized wedding bands, our life hasn’t been one of ease or plans coming to fruition. But you’ve figured out a way laugh through the worst life can toss at us and made me laugh at myself in the process.
Over time, my love for you has only grown stronger. Where once I couldn’t imagine life without you by my side, now I cannot picture what my life was like before you came into it. Your beauty, your grace under pressure, the way you enliven a room: all this and more constantly amazes me. It is your strength that has guided this little family over the years, your wisdom that has saved us from catastrophe, your resilience that enabled us to bounce back every time things went astray. You’ve always known when I needed a laugh to get me past a difficult situation, a poke to get me moving in the right direction and a roadblock to keep me from going off on wild tangents.
And after all these years, there still isn’t another woman who can thrill me with just a smile, who has the ability with just a look to set my pulse racing and get my palms sweating. I may be well into middle age, but you can still make me feel like a teenager going on his first date; that odd combination of anticipation and nervousness.
For all of this and more, things I cannot write here or that are beyond my ability to write about, I love you. I love you for being you – and I love you for loving me. Your marrying me was the greatest gift I’ve ever received, one that I’ve treasured for the past 13 years and the one I’ll cherish above all others for the rest of my life.
Happy Anniversary, Sweetheart! I hope you don’t mind my sharing this with the rest of the world (although I don’t think you will) – but I think everyone, everywhere should know what a wonderful, wonderful woman you are. ♥
And if you are not outraged after watching this, it might be time for you to seek asylum elsewhere. Trust me, the weather in North Korea is beautiful this time of year.
You may not have seen this (it certainly isn’t getting any play in mass media), but apparently the President thinks issuing an executive order will fix what ails the Veteran’s Administration’s approach to mental health issues. Or maybe it’s a cheap ploy for votes…nah, no politician would stoop that low, would they? The funny thing is, the 24 hour standard he’s ordering is actually worse than existing VA guidelines – and which the IG notes the VA meets less than 50% of the time.
You may be familiar with Mike Rowe from his show on the Discovery Channel, Dirty Jobs. Even if you’ve never seen the show (in which case I suggest you catch an episode), you’ve probably seen him shilling cars and trucks for Ford or paper towels for Viva. And if you watch ABC’s World News then you hear his voice every night – he’s the announcer during the opening and commercial breaks.
What you may not realize is that he is also a serious advocate for vocational training. His foundation, mikeroweWORKS, is dedicated to making education in skilled trades something other than a remedial course of study. He understands a point I made several weeks back, that a four-year degree is not the best path for every student. Or for our nation’s future.
Before you say that of course our nation still values the skilled trades as highly as a college education, ask yourself how you would react if your son or daughter announced their intention of becoming a truck driver after high school. Or a plumber, electrician, farmer, or welder. Even thought they are among both the highest paying and most consistently sought after trades by employers, I doubt it would be greeted with the same enthusiasm as an announcement they wanted to become an astrophysicist or surgeon.
Therein lies a major problem, both for the current economy and the economy of the future. Already the news is full of accounts of college graduates queuing up for job applications in the unskilled trades (think retail worker), simply because there isn’t demand for their skill set. At the same time, there is a desperate need for mechanics, welders, riggers, electricians, plumbers, HVAC techs – all you need to do is pick up the help wanted section of any metro newspaper.
Mr. Rowe understands this problem is a problem. To that end, he’s written an open letter to Mitt Romney. He wrote a similar one to Barack Obama during the least election cycle, but based on the President’s education initiatives it fell on deaf ears. You can read the full letter here, but I wanted to lift one line that I thought exemplified the problem:
“I always thought there something ill-fated about the promise of three million “shovel ready jobs” made to a society that no longer encourages people to pick up a shovel.“
In a nutshell, THAT is the biggest problem with getting our nation back to work today. Many of my conservative friends are adamant about making welfare and unemployment recipients work for their benefit checks. I don’t necessarily disagree with that sentiment. But in a nation that no longer values physical or skilled labor, how likely is a program akin to Roosevelt’s CCC or WPA to succeed?